Magic Leap's 'chief game wizard' has big ideas for the mixed reality future

Graeme Devine was enjoying his time away from games, walking his dog along the beach in Santa Cruz, California. He was essentially retired. But then he got a call from a startup called Magic Leap.

Graeme Devine was enjoying his time away from games, walking his dog along the beach in Santa Cruz, California. He was essentially retired.

But that changed when he got a call from Magic Leap, the Florida-based startup behind the mixed reality tech that’s shrouded in secrecy. They said they needed a game guy. Once he saw the tech, he excitedly came back out of retirement, Devine said in the opening keynote of the Austin Game Conference in Austin, TX this morning.

“Game design for [mixed reality] is incredibly difficult,” he said. Devine, whose official title is "chief game wizard" at Magic Leap, sharpened his skills as a game developer on more traditional platforms over the past decades, creating games including The 7th Guest and contributing to design on id Software’s Quake III: Arena, among many other notable works.

The difficulty in developing for MR has much to do with it being a new technology whose uses and strengths are yet to be fully defined. But MR itself does have a definition that’s distinct from virtual reality and augmented reality, at least according to Magic Leap:

  • VR: Digital environments that shut out the real world
  • AR: Digital content on top of your real world
  • MR: Digital content interacts with your real world

“Mixed reality is the mixture of the real world and virtual worlds so that one understands the other,” he said. “This creates experiences that cannot possibly happen anywhere else.”

VR vs. AR vs. MR

Like others who work in VR have stated, Devine said he believes that game developers will be the ones driving the creation of new experiences in MR, laying the foundation for other non-game experiences. The four pillars of MR according to Devine are:

  • Games
  • Media
  • Communication
  • Information

But in order to adhere to those pillars, creators will need to understand the strengths of MR, and avoid doing something similar to adding a virtual d-pad to a touch screen.

An excellent example of content that is specially made to take advantage of new technology, said Devine, is Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64. That game took advantage of 3D graphics and melded perfectly with a newfangled game controller.

Super Mario 64 changed the game industry,” he said. For a long time, developers on console were convinced that 3D was too difficult to comprehend for consumers, he said. “[Super Mario 64] showed that we could comprehend 3D puzzles on a television set…It changed the game industry.”

He said that since Mario 64, the industry hasn’t really moved on. The graphics are better, the controls are more complex, “but we still comparatively still have the same game,” he said.

Devine said Magic Leap is working on concepts that take advantage of MR tech. In a concept called Ghost Girl, players use real objects like wooden blocks or playing cards to communicate with a ghost, maybe to solve a murder, or to just…hang out. He theorized about reenacting a scene from the Netflix series Stranger Things, using real-world objects like Christmas lights.

Hang out with a ghost in the comfort of your actual living room

Therein lies the difference according to Devine’s definition of MR: you use real-world objects along with the visualization tech to create a new experience. This type of experience has been seen before in varying degrees (even the Nintendo 3DS used physical cards in tandem with a camera and screen for games, which Devine might classify as AR), but what Devine is imagining are experiences that meld much more naturally, seamlessly, and interactively with the real world.

Devine said technology today, as useful as it can be, is still invasive to our experiences as humans. He took the classic example of people at a rock concert, who are all recording the show on their phones, experience it through their four-inch screens, and missing the real life thing that’s happening right in front of them, failing to take it in.

“This is the world we must destroy, and mixed reality will help,” he said.

There’s more to Magic Leap’s potential than games, but it’s games that he believes will lead the way. He came to these conclusions:

  • “People are first”: Experiences ought to enhance and improve peoples’ lives, not detract from them.
  • “What we make will be better, not always new”: Incrementally improving existing experiences is acceptable when on the way to a revolution.
  • “The experience REALLY matters”: As important as the tech is, it’s the experience that people such as game developers create that will determine MR’s success or failure.
  • “Han definitely shot first”: This is apropos of nothing other than Devine likes Star Wars.
  • “You’ve got to have faith”: It takes imagination and a belief in success to make something like MR work, according to Devine.

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